Racist talk – more than Golden Dawn

Dr Efrosini Deligianni examines the current public discourse in Greece and presents the chilling outcomes of her research at the Greek History and Culture Seminars

“The ideologies that are embedded in language, and in their recurrent, everyday, familiar, taken-for granted, discoursal nature, legitimise the existing different social relations and give rise to power relations and struggle,” says linguist and founder of the method of critical discourse analysis in linguistics, Norman Fairclough, in the study ‘Language and Power’.

The above findings of Fairclough are the theoretical basis on which linguist and head of the Greek Studies program at the University of New South Wales, Dr Efrosini Deligianni, has analysed and will present next Thursday in a lecture entitled ‘Racist Talk in Greek Public Discourse: The Perpetuation of a Racist Ideology’, a review of the ‘verbal tools’ used by the political parties such as Golden Dawn to promote racism in Greek society.

But this style of racist discourse the scholar has found is not just exclusive to an overt racist party such as Golden Dawn: the sad fact she has discovered is many of Greece’s political parties have adopted their own form of racist discourse and promote it through their politics in Greece and to the citizens each day.

We and the … others: social discrimination, separation and diversification

It all started about a year and a half ago. Linguist Dr Efrosini Deligianni began to realise – whilst watching the Greek media – that racism (and all its related -isms) had become part of the everyday discourse in Greece. “It actually seemed at the time as if we were on the verge of accepting and legitimising it – a rather disturbing prospect.
So as to assess this initial intuitive interpretation, I decided to work on ‘Racist talk in Greek Public Discourse,” Dr Deligianni tells Neos Kosmos.
Her starting point was the website of extreme right-wing party Golden Dawn, and the media presence this party poses through speeches, blogs and the way the parliamentarians and their members portray the party’s message.

“I chose Golden Dawn specifically for their overtly racist discourse,” she explains, “and I wanted to see how they can on one hand express far-right and extremist ideologies but also how this public discourse becomes part or not of the discourse that other ideologically different political parties use.”
She uses the term social discrimination as an overarching term, racism and xenophobia being just different subtypes of it.

Dr Deligianni says there are many similar strategies between those employed by Golden Dawn and by the other political and ideological spaces to get across their message, but the most important similarity is the language.

“For example, in some press articles the pronoun ‘we’ is often used,” she starts. “‘We’ who believe in democracy or ‘we’ who stand for this position.
“This means that the author tries to identify with the reader and get them on side, which automatically implies the existence of the ‘other’, which in turn creates what we call social discrimination, separation or differentiation between social groups.”

In taking Fairclough’s theory into consideration, about the involvement of two subjects in discourse – that in times the listener becomes, unwittingly, an active member of this new social and public discourse, and this power of language is being applied in today’s strong racist elements of Greek society.
Racist discourse can happen when the language relates to a group, uniformed members and the ‘we’ stands for the normal, the correct way to be. Anything else is foreign, different, it deviates from what is considered normal in this discourse.

“For Golden Dawn, the two are apparent; the ‘we’ refers to patriotic Greeks who love their motherland and the ‘others’ are foreigners, the migrants,” says Dr Deligianni.

“In terms of parties such as New Democracy, the ‘we’ refers to the good people and the ‘other’ refers to the opponents, the bad people, Golden Dawn, etc.”
Whatever the case, these are the same racist discourse tactics and language employed and thus accepted and infiltrating society and to Dr Deligianni, this is the ‘big catch’, this is the ‘trap’.

Language, church and racism

Dr Deligianni believes that Greek – or any other language for that matter – has the potential to construct racist messages, but it does not inherently have the predisposition to promote racism.

“I think the language is a neutral entity, however, one that produces ideological change to our society and culture.

“Language can function as a means of reproducing racist messages and if you bear in mind that it is ideologically charged, then you can understand the racism that comes from this place.

“If we want to call ourselves responsible citizens, then we must carefully consider not only the production of speech but also the intention, in other words, how we accept a story, how to evaluate and how to reproduce.”

But what about the church; another very powerful institution in Greek society.

“Unfortunately, the church plays a role in this maintenance of racist speech because it represents the deep state such as the army and police. I do not mean the church as a whole, but elements in the church,” explains Dr Deligianni of the church’s stance.

Racist speech and the new generation:

“Neo-Nazism, fascism, racism and any other antisocial and inhumane behaviour does not come as a result of an ideology, it does not have any ideological background and it does not consist of ideology. It is a magnified expression-manifestation of the beast we all have within us … and the only antibiotic to fight this inner beast of ours is education.” Manos Hadjidakis, 1993.

The current socio-economic position in which Greece has found itself has become an accomplice to the manifestation of racist dialogues. The current plight of racist speeches that are accepted as commonplace are creating a bleak future and perpetuating this language to grow venomous legs.
But how does this impact on the new generation: the youth? They will live beyond this economic crisis.

“I think it all starts with education,” says Dr Deligianni. “Since there is no attempt to somehow promote critical and analytical thinking, then by default the new generation accept anything heard on TV or anything they read without critical analysis.”
She takes the case of Golden Dawn again, that may appeal to the new generation as they are a voice of the opposition, an anti-system voice, “so the young decide to support it and enhance it”.

“Unfortunately many young people I’ve spoken to note that this is the point to which they give the most emphasis, they are unaware of the substance of Golden Dawn’s racist rhetoric.”

But the question remains, are the young more impressionable and vulnerable to this ideology?

“I do not want to believe it, but there are many examples, like the age groups that voted for Golden Dawn proving this is true,” she says.

“I would like to be more optimistic, but I cannot say something right now.”

The lecture ‘Racist Talk in Greek Public Discourse: The Perpetuation of a Racist Ideology’ will be presented Thursday 19 June at 7.00 pm at the Ithacan Philanthropic Society, 329 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. The lecture will be given in English.